Oath of the Gatewatch Year in Review

This is per usual the continuation of the Year in Review series, where I take a set that was released one year ago and analyze its medium term impact in cube. There is a lot we can learn from the gap between initial impressions to real play experience. On the other hand, a year is not a long enough time for a consensus to truly form around all the cards and gems can still be discovered. I’ve already done colorless mana year in review, this will cover all the other cards.

 

White

Oath of Gideon – unplayable

This applies to the whole cycle besides the green card – There are not worth playing. The effects are sub par for the mana cost, getting multiple planeswalkers in a single deck is hard and the oaths want to be played before them.

 

Call the Gatewatch – unplayable

A cool effect, but too expensive, slow and narrow. Hard to find a deck that will want this. Planeswalkers are rarely that good in one specific task so they lack silver bullet value. Giving your opponent a notification a turn in advance about a nasty planeswalker you want to play reduces its chances of surviving drastically.

 

Wall of Resurgence – unplayable

Lots of stats for the mana but risky and in a way not asked for. If you want a wall, your deck will likely be royally screwed by turning your opponent’s spot removal spells into Stone Rain in most stages of the game. It is one of the worse cards to play with mass removals. Same reasons in reverse apply for decks interested in attacking.

 

Linvala, the Preserver – staple (at large sizes)

I value Linvala more than most people I know. She is simply easily the best white six drop for control decks. When you are behind, you cannot get much better than this. True, sometimes you have more life and face a single creature. Chances are you are winning anyway with your control deck. In situations where your opponent has a creature-less deck with planeswalkers or there is a massive stall she is still a 5/5 flier. That is what differentiates her from Thragtusk – she is a capable win condition. A 5/5 flier for 6 is not flashy, but gets the job done and requires removal. She is even good with Karakas and not terrible against it.

Her downside is narrowness. She is not something you want to ramp for or cheat into play. A third turn Linvala is a vanilla Linvala most likely. Decks that expect to be ahead in life and on board will never pack her, but they seldom play six drops. In terms of ranking, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion is easily the best white 6 drop. After that I like the angel more than Sun Titan for 720 cubes. Titan is also not a card meant to be cheated. Titan is not a reliable win condition, lacking evasion. You have to craft very specific lists before Sun Titan can be claimed to pass the removal test better than Linvala. That said, Sun Titan is the better midrange card.

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Blue

Crush of Tentacles – potential sleeper

I have read good feedback about the card, and cubetutor stats say the card is quite popular. Activating surge shouldn’t be too much of a problem with a cantrip (even better with a mox) and is generally the sort of effect you can wait until your seventh land to play as it should win you the game. There are a few reasons why I haven’t tried this myself yet. First, it is yet another blue card that will own midrange and be weak against aggro/other control decks. Blue has plenty of those. It gains major points for being effective against token decks though. Second, Baral’s Expertise treads on very similar grounds (so is Cyclonic Rift but that card is in a different league). Over the next year or so, I hope a winner between the two will emerge.

 

Void Shatter – unplayable

Worse than Cancel. Being colorless is a drawback in cube, it cannot be pitched to Force of Will and Chrome Mox.

 

Oath of Jace – unplayable

Seems similar to Compulsive Research, yet worse in multiple ways. The card selection effect is worse. Even after adding the upkeep triggers, you need quite a few turns before claiming the effect is better. If blue was a color full of enchantment synergies and devotion this could see play. Currently being an enchantment is a drawback, as it doesn’t work with Thing in the Ice, baby Jace, Snapcaster Mage, delve etc. Search is not an impressive card in the first place, so this has little reason to be a part of cubes of any size.

 

Black

Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet – staple

A godsend to control decks. A 3/4 lifelink body for four is exactly what you want most of the time – it survives most burn, kills all creature costing three or less and regains you tempo. Black is also a color notorious for inflicting itself damage so likes lifegain the most. Kalitas also is also a great card to play with mass removals. It is not profitable to attack into so it forces your opponent to extend. Once he or she does, wipe and gain your own army.

What I did not anticipate was how good the card is as a synergy piece, even in aggro decks. A recent B/R aggro deck played the Traitor. The pilot said he never got a single 2/2 black token, yet the card still did a lot. It will make trades in combat very unprofitable for your opponent, is a sacrifice outlet and can grow to impressive sizes with Bloodghast and Gravecrawler. Exiling creatures is also a randomly great hoser ability, especially against Recurring Nightmare.

 

Reaver Drone – fringe playable

Only large cubes will consider playing this. It the weakest of black one drops to even be considered for cube. One drops in aggro are crucial, so there are reasons to play it. If you have enough of them, Drone is a card that gets cut from maindecks. This sounds trivial but really is not. I am usually very happy to cut a three drop for another good one drop in my aggro decks. Drone is so bad in race situations or against fat blockers, that unless you have to play it, and feel bad about it, you will not be doing so. Other black one drops are not that far ahead, but all offer bonuses such as more toughness, less life loss and relevant creature types.

 

Red

Goblin Dark Dwellers – solid playable

This card is better than I expected. It was evaluated near OGW release as “build your own Flametongue Kavu”. This is still what the card ends up doing most of the time, but the average case scenario is a bit higher than that. Of course Dwellers can theoretically whiff, but you are playing red hence burn. In a red deck very light with burn and no spells in the other color, this might not be playable but that never happened. The ceiling is ridiculous, with targets scaling all the way up to Time Walk and Ancestral Recall.

As an FTK, the body is a serious upgrade. Menace is underrated ability. Although people start evaluating it properly, a year ago it was very far from that. A 4/4 menace is a serious threat that will do a lot of damage and kill planeswalkers. As a 4/4 it is a better defensive tool, containing most attackers and surviving burn. FTK is still cheaper and splashable so it is hard to argue it is worse.

Dark Dwellers is a good midrange option for red. Thundermaw Hellkite and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker are clearly better, with argument for Siege-Gang Commander as well. So it is 4th at best, and as red is not a midrange color, only very large cubes will want it. Hence, it is not of staple status, although it is a very solid card I do not expect replacing in the next few years.

 

Chandra, Flamecaller – solid playable

Chandra is a good control tool. She was used here primarily in Izzet, but she goes well in Superfriends decks or Oath of Druids. The mass removal ability protects her and she is a fast clock. Her discard ability is mostly used to dig for specific outs, she is too expensive to be used as a discard outlet or synergy piece. She is a rounded card that is good in most situations. She is not at the titans/Elspeth, Sun’s Champion level but she does the job in R/G ramp or URx control. As six haste power that is hard to remove or block, she is great. She goes very well with other mass removal clearing the way for her.

Quite often I see she needs to take down a 4 toughness creature and die, or she needs to cast an Anger of the Gods then dies immediately to something (manland/vehicle/burn/haste creature). She is still what you want against decks going wide when you are behind and great when ahead. A major downside of her is that in cubes supporting Wildfire there are already three red six drops you want more.

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Green

Oath of Nissa – staple

A filter card close in power to Ponder is always exciting, let alone in green. Fetch a land early, a threat late and whatever-you-need-at-this-moment in the middle. Theoretically there are green decks with plenty of artifacts, instants and sorceries where Oath is unplayable. That did not happen yet. You are playing green, creatures are the main reason to play the color. Even if there is an Oath of Druids deck, the green creatures in the draft will go somewhere and that player will pick Oath highly. Also, the Oath of Druids deck will likely pack enough planeswalkers to want Oath as well. I’d play Oath with 10 cards it cannot fetch.

The second ability should be a side perk at best, but amazingly it was relevant the first time the card was drafted. In a superfriends deck it has reasonable synergy with the first ability as you pick any planeswalker you want out of your top 3 cards and ignore the colors of your lands.

 

Sylvan Advocate – staple

Green got great cards in OGW. Advocate is very easy to turn on. We knew it was going to wreak aggro. We didn’t know how good it was going to be against slower decks as well – it is a 2 mana card that will turn into a serious threat at no further investment. Cheap enough to slip under counter magic and as a two drop you do not overly care if it eats spot removal. The land pump is a very relevant ability in practice, especially as the green manlands have no evasion and need the stats boost to overcome blockers. Also works well with Nissa, Worldwaker. There is an open debate whether Goyf is better than Advocate. I think in the average green deck Advocate is better (and goyf has a much higher ceiling).

 

Nissa, Voice of Zendikar – fringe playable

I’ve mistakenly reviewed her with BFZ. I blame her name for this innocent mistake.

 

Natural State – niche

In powered cubes there are many targets. However how much does costing one less than Naturalize is relevant compared to the lessened scope of targets? In most green decks the saving of one mana is not significant enough to play an answer this narrow.

 

Multicolored

Reflector Mage – staple

I think this is the best UW card. Whether you are a control or tempo deck, this fellow will always be a consideration for your deck. A 2/3 body is good for the mana, denying a creature for two turns can win games in aggressive decks or buy time to find answers in slow decks. A card powerful enough to be worth splashing for. Ripe for abuse with bounce/blink/reanimation but honestly doesn’t need that to be a staple.

 

Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim – low playable

Definitely a pushed card, but conflicted. The abilities are good but scattered all over the place. The 2/3 deathtouch body for 2 is similar to Gifted Aetherborn  – durable enough to be problematic to aggro, deathtouch to be relevant against midrange. Her ability is a sacrifice outlet and some lifegain that black likes so much. However it requires you to have other creatures out and disposable ones. Sure, you can sacrifice your creatures in response to a spot or mass removal, but all you are doing is gaining life and that likely doesn’t advance your gameplan. Her final ability is great, but costs enough mana and requires enough creatures to not be an automatic win. It should be active less often than most planeswalker ultimates.

Overall she is a good card but some white and black two drops are quite clearly better than her. Far from all of them though and she is a card all WB aggro decks would see, as well as some midrange decks that will likely be Abzan. She not a card worth splashing for or building around. Orzhov is very competitive and depending on preference she can be the fifth or so best card.

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Jori En, Ruin Diver – fringe playable

You do not need to draw many cards at all before this is worth the mana cost. A single card likely does the trick. U/R is a color combination heavy with cheap spells. If you can follow Jori up with a spell he immediately replaced itself. The problem is that Jori is not an easy fit in any deck and not worth building around. Drawing more than one card for Jori will require a heavy emphasis on spells. There are decks that want to play as many as they can, but even they will not be able to draw cards turn after turn. You could try to force it, but Jori is not worth it. As one of few creatures in a said deck it will be a removal magnet. You have to keep a healthy amount of spells in hand. Jori will also punish you for mana floods and to a lesser extent mana screws. In total it will be drawing less than one card on average, not enough for a gold card.

 

Stormchaser Mage – playable

The best body with prowess for cube. It has a passable body that is relevant even as a topdeck. The problem is that not every Izzet deck will want the purely aggressive body and fewer still will have the critical amount of spells to make it great. If Izzet is much more tempo than control in your cube Mage is a worthy addition.

 

Mina and Denn, Wildborn – unplayable

Gruul is renowned for a very deep shelf of 4 drops – Xenagos, Sarkhan, Huntmaster, Arlinn Kord and Ghor-Clan Rampager. Mina and Denn have a very unimpressive body, a rarely relevant ability and as many alternatives as you could possibly want.

 

Lands and Colorless

Hissing Quagmire – playable

The whole cycle of manlands is good. The opportunity cost of adding a threat to your deck is low, and the fixing is always welcome. Quagmire is the second worse land in the cycle. A 2/2 body is just not very relevant in the late game offensively, even if it has deathtouch. It is rare it will accomplish much. The card is best seen as having three modes, when the primary mode is fixing. The second mode is as bad removal for an attacking creature on the ground. It is rare that sacrificing a land for a removal they basically see in advance is going to be great, but it can deter attacks, trade with an attacking titan and is still something to do when flooded. The final mode is as an attacking Mutavault. Deathtouch is much worse on the offense.

Quagmire is still a good card, and is better than Twilight Mire, checkland and Temple of Malady. However it is of the few cases where I think the painland is better than the manland for a color pair.

 

Needle Spires – staple

Boros is the most aggressive color combination and therefore the guild that least wants to play lands that enter the battlefield tapped. Needle Spires is a rare exception. Aggro decks want fixing, and want ways to recover from mass removals. Needle Spires attacks for four, perhaps more than every other creature you have. The presence of this land on the field makes life tough for your opponent. You can keep attacking without committing more to the board. End of turn burn to clear the way + Needle Spires attack will kill most planeswalkers. Spires also scales well with anthem effects and Elspeth, Knight Errant. Sometimes an aggro deck can be stopped with a 3/3 or 4/4; spires can attack and trade with that and clear the way for the rest of the team.

 

Wandering Fumarole – staple

Fumarole attacks for four, a sure recipe for a successful manland. Fumarole is more useful than most manlands on the defense too, not just due to high toughness but also because the color combination has a lot of instants to use the mana in case the threat of activation prevented an attack. On the offense it also largely requires a 2/2 to block Fumarole indefinitely, but that helps the rest of your team come through.

 

Captain’s Claws – unplayable

This is simply low impact. You need several hits before you return the investment with this card, and still a 2/3 will stop the tokens even if they are equipped. Another threat or burn spell is better.

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Colorless Mana Year in Review

Oath of the gatewatch was a set high in innovation compared to its predecessor. A major part of this was colorless mana. I had enough to say on the subject to make a whole article about it. The rest of the set review will follow later.

 

The most exciting new feature of the set for me was colorless mana. Many mechanics do something new. Few are the mechanics that make old cards do something new. Very rare are the mechanics that change the tried-and-true deck-building algorithms. Colorless mana does that in spades. Never before did we have to craft manabases of decks with two colors and a splash for colorless. Never did we have to prioritize pain lands over shocks. Now we have a new basic land types, and I find that, by itself, strategically interesting. It added a new basic feature to the game in an intuitive way that is not intrusive. It is cleanly executed, easy to understand and surprisingly deep in applications. Besides, colorless gives off-color effects to many decks. It is more pushed than generic mana costing cards, as it does not need to be nerfed for fear of years of broken interaction cards with artifacts. The main argument against the mechanic for cube was that producing colorless mana is too difficult to do without damaging your mana base. It seemed to some like a nice idea in theory but too risky and demanding to be played. This proved a non-issue for us and likely for most large cubes.

The most effective way to facilitate colorless mana costs is to cube the colorless producing mana fixing lands. This makes playing or even splashing colorless easy. Painlands become a tri-land of sorts. It is actually a lot more difficult to support colorless at smaller cube sizes because painlands simply do not cut it there on power level. Besides painlands, I highly recommend Grove of the Burnwillows and of course the random filterland helps as well (although they are still quite bad and I do not like them, this is more an incidental ). The new Ash Barrens is also of the best enablers.

The usual suspects among true colorless lands, from Library of Alexandria to Rishadan Port just got a bit better. The amount of colorless producing lands has increased a little bit since including colorless caring cards, but overall not by a lot. Westvale Abbey, Gargoyle Castle and Foundry of the Consuls are new but I’d likely play at least the first two even without colorless costing cards, and that is in 720. We have tried many more, in thoughts the new mana symbol could give new life to old favorites, but it turns out the marginal colorless producing lands are still not making the cut, specifically Tendo Ice Bridge and its ilk. The amount of colorless mana cards is too low to make bad cards good. They make some already playable cards good, but they will not shift evaluation of colorless producers significantly. Pain lands were already desirable for aggro and green decks with mana elves for their ability to provide fixing from the first turn of the game. Including extra pure colorless lands proved just unnecessary as playing colorless cards is so effortless given the better producers. Said lands appear strictly better than Wastes, but they are not so for several reasons. They take real estate in the cube, require picking during the draft and are not basic.

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Speaking of Wastes, I’ve overestimated how many are used. I’ve packed 8 and so far I think 4 have been the most that were ever used at a single 8 man draft. Actually ebfore today the record was 2, but today a mono white deck included 4 for Eldrazi Displacer – a risky move that payed off. Wastes are important to have, as they make splashing for colorless cards that much easier with Evolving Wilds and Terramorphic Expanse. It is especially relevant for green, who can fetch them with Sakura-Tribe Elder, Cultivate and more, mostly for the new Kozilek.

Nonland colorless sources are not as instrumental. If you ever needed more convincing to play the Talismans over the signets, now you have it. For some reason the talisman still do not get the respect they deserve. A Talisman of Unity was already playable to great in your W/R gruul midrange, now that you have a Thought-Knot Seer in your list too it is of the better mana rocks your deck can have. Turns out that many naturally producing colorless cards are played in cube. From Sol Ring through Mind Stone to Mana Drain, you’d be surprised how easy it is to find something to cast your card off of, even without trying hard.

Colorless mana costs are better served in mid to late game cards and mana sinks. Makes sense, as you have a higher chance of drawing your source by then. Also, colorless mana interferes with your curve sometimes and the earlier you want it, the more colorless lands your deck needs and the more it will hurt casting your other cards during that game. As a result of that and the available pool of cards, colorless is mostly a splash for a card or two at the middle to late stages of the game.

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Eldrazi Displacer – Colorless mana staple

I do not want to say any colorless cost card is a true staple as smaller cubes cannot support them well. However, if you add any colorless cards at all, this should be the one. White’s three drops are stacked, yet this guy has enabled many combo decks at the cost of one card slot, while being good enough to see play in some aggressive decks too. A recent combo deck had Displacer + Arcane Savant naming Time Spiral. This is of the craziest combos in the cube environment! Having infinite mana and drawing whichever card you want out of your deck and graveyard should do the job. The resilience is what makes this combo special – it could go off out of nowhere if you have six mana, one of them colorless by nothing more than Arcane Savant. It doesn’t even care if Displacer was killed before, as Savant will dig for it anyway. The deck even had Phantasmal Image for an extra dig if needed. If you can keep Displacer and a colorless source on the board, you win when you get to 5 mana, only 4 of it from lands.

That was a bit off-topic but merely one example of the cool decks you can make with it. Channel + Eldrazi Displacer + Siege Rhino is also infinite. Even if you do not go all the way to an instant win, reusing ETB effects can be great repeated value. It is so annoying to play against it – all the other creatures but him cannot be killed by sorcery speed spot removals, planning blockers is difficult and your tokens just die. It is also noteworthy how strong Displacer is against planeswalkers. You have a Garruk in hand? That’s cute.

You absolutely want to have a few colorless sources in your deck for Displacer. Without them he is horrid. Usually one source online will do enough to justify the slot and 2 will enable a full-going machine. Any more is overkill. I’d feel fine to play Displacer in a deck with three colorless sources total, though 4 is even better. A noteworthy synergy in white is between Land Tax and Wastes.

 

Dimensional Infiltrator – niche

One of the surest ways to have an unplayable card is to take a card only one deck wants and add more conditions to its playability for marginal benefit. DI is only a consideration for tempo decks. In them it is hard to argue it is not playable. A Mistral Charger with flash would see play in white, and in every aggressive deck, yet would be hardly exciting. The self-rescue ability is so hardly useful it should barely be talked about. Besides requiring at least one colorless mana, you need to have that mana available in the appropriate time window and be lucky with the mill. It was never close to milling someone out as an alternative win condition due to the scarcity of colorless mana in decks (you cannot have half your mana be colorless consistently). If you have two drops in blue dedicated to tempo decks, this is a second place competitor to Stratus Dancer. I’d not even call this card a colorless casting cost one, as I’d hardly be prioritized to have colorless sources in my deck at all just for this measly ability.

 

Bearer of Silence – low playable

Bearer is in a good position – there is a shortage of strong black two drops and he is playable on curve without ever worrying about colorless mana. I’d definitely play him in a deck that needs the body with two colorless sources. The 4 mana mode should be seen as the second mode, something you do if the card is topdecked late or you can afford it. It is fair no matter how you slice it, and edict effects are usually much worse at turn 4 than at turn 2. That said, two playable modes make a solid card that will likely stay for a while due to the weakness of the alternatives.

 

Eldrazi Obligator – playable

I haven’t tried him yet, but I like him in theory and want to include him. He is almost a Geier Reach Bandit on one hand. An exaggeration really, as one toughness is much worse than 2 against many decks, and especially when facing tokens. On the other hand, he is almost as good as Zealous Conscripts. Again worse, due to lower toughness, being able to target only creatures and requiring colorless. However, being a 5 mana conditional aggressive red card is a bad place to be. Obligator had a playable base mode and the situational kicker effect is sometimes gamewinning. This way you can have your late game power without sacrificing early game consistency.  A minor upside is that the Threaten effect is uncounterable. Obligator should never see play in a deck that cannot produce colorless, but in the aggressive red decks that do, he should be a good card.

 

World Breaker – unplayable

I’m only writing about some of these cards because I did not review the set when it came out. A fattie that cannot be grabbed with Natural Order and Green Sun’s Zenith, doesn’t trigger when cheated otherwise and has no evasion or easy way to end the game even when cast is not what you want for seven mana. Even the recursion is slow and conditional.

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Thought-Knot Seer – great

The best of the true colorless cards. A 4/4 for four is a sizeable body and the targeted discard is a welcome off-color effect for many decks. Most of the important cards to hit cost 4 mana or more, and in any case just having a 4/4 + card advantage on top is worth the hassle. The body is big enough to contain the vast majority of creatures costing three or less mana. People are sometimes afraid of the drawback but it is really not too big of a deal. Quite often you will discard their only way to kill TKS. If they have two or more, you can usually ascertain that the eldrazi will not be answered by something much cheaper, meaning you are even on tempo and force them to answer him with the (1-for-1 if you were half smart) second card, with chances that the newly drawn card is worse than the one discarded, so it was a good deal for you anyway. If you hit nothing with the discard, it is a pure drawback but still means you are likely ahead. A 4/4 against no hand resistance is still a solid way to win the game. A good option for green to deal with opposing fatties.

 

Reality Smasher – solid

The body is impressive for the cost. The problem is mostly being a highly aggressive card in a non-aggressive cost, making him narrower than Thought-Knot Seer. Smasher is good against opposing planeswalkers and offers compensation when answered. A nice thing to cast early with mana ramp, the classic is off of Mana Vault at the second turn. A card reminiscent of Thundermaw Hellkite in function (though weaker in power level).

 

Kozilek, the Great Distortion – archetype piece in large cubes

The only card that requires more than one colorless mana. As most eldrazis, he will be mainly cheated into play and as he is castable with Channel that is not too much of a change. He is also reanimatable, a plus. However he is not as strong as old Kozilek with sneak attack. Matter of fact is Kozilek is relatively easy to answer and block for a while compared to eldrazi titans. In decks that want to hardcast him, the double colorless mana is of least concern. Super ramp decks usually pack accelerators that generate several colorless mana on their own: Thran Dynamo, Ancient Tomb, Worn Powerstone, Palladium Myr, Everflowing Chalice, Hedron Archive and perhaps a few more cards do that. Plus, most of those decks are green, the color that has the easiest time to fetch Wastes. Usually one Wastes is maindecked to support Kozilek. He is a bit stronger sometimes when cast than his old self, but is less consistent.

The two new titans, Emrakul and Ulamog, are definitely better. I still like Kozilek, Butcher of Truth more than him, but that is up to preference, making him eldrazi titan number 3-4. Large cubes supporting super ramp and/or sneak and show decks will want the eldritch horror, and probably for a long while.

 

Mirrorpool – playable but narrow

Mirrorpool is narrow and powerful. With Primeval Titan and the like it is awesome. Without combos as strong, the amount of colorless you will have in your deck, both from it and the lands needed to activate it, is prohibitive. It is the absolute weakest mana producer in cube, something you only ever want to draw late and requires attractive targets to be in play in the first place. Currently too damaging but if one day heavy Wastes decks are a thing, this will get another spin.

BFZ year in review

BFZ was considered a great set for cube when it came out. The next year contained 4 consecutive sets, as well as conspiracy 2 which stole much of the set’s thunder. In some cases even directly so, like Ulamog is shadowed by Emrakul or Greenwarden of Murasa and Regal Behemoth. Battle for Zendikar will be remembered in the long term by the enemy manlands (and most of them did not come out in this set). Besides that, all three planeswalkers go from playable to staple and there are a few more loose ends.

 

New Mechanics

Awaken – letdown

Awaken first seemed like your regular kicker mechanic. Just like, say, evoke, it gives the spell two modes – one cheaper and one more expensive. Of course, unlike evoke, the mechanic is much less busable but still. It turns out no awaken spells bar one have long time viability in a large cube and even that spell is barely ever used in awaken mode. This was quite surprising to me. Why Awaken underperformed so much?

First, Awaken is actually more expensive by one than it reads. You do not want to spend a ton of mana to make a tapped 4/4 that has no impact on the board for a turn. Second, the bodies have no evasion and struggle to make an impact in the later stages of the game when they come online. With Awaken you cannot get a creature early. Third, losing your awakened land actually hurts. Awaken creates no card advantage in those situations. Many times, especially early-mid game, your land is far more valuable than a 3/3 body. Yes that creature will not die to Maelstrom Pulse or Anguished Unmaking, but it will die as a byproduct of every mass removal and is a saucy target for burn and bounce spells.

There is a philosophy in cube building that there are no bad mechanics, only bad cards. Every mechanic can be pushed enough to see cube play. While true, this is a meaningless philosophical musing if Wizards are unable to print cards of that power level. Awaken has failed and it is no great loss as it is not a very interesting mechanic.

 

White

 

Stasis Snare – worse than expected

Stasis Snare has one advantage going for it – flash. Everything else about it is weak. Compared to Grasp of Fate, it can only hit creatures. It costs more white than Oblivion Ring and a whopping mana more than Journey to Nowhere. As there are many like-minded effects in white that are better, Snare is fringe at best at 720. While Banishing Light effects are strong for their ability to exile the creature and move past undying, persist, death triggers and graveyard shenanigans, basically all white removals do this. Also there is a limit to how many temporary removals in the form of an enchantment one may want. Both for variety’s sake and because it can be a glaring weakness for white if it becomes totally hosed by Naturalize effects.

White is not the sort of color that can utilize the flash effectively anyway. Monastery Mentor and Seeker of the Way like it, it is okay with Restoration Angel and that is basically it. While being blue changes this equation, Snare costs double white mana which hinders his playability significantly in decks with blue as the main color. In general, we want our removals to be broad, cheap and easy to cast over minor incidental synergies.

 

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar – Better than expected

Gideon was the sort of card whose high power level is obvious from the first look. The card is not innovative, offering effects you can get elsewhere. White four drops are stacked and specifically Elspeth, Knight Errant is better. Despite this, Gideon is easily a worthy inclusion and turned out better than expected.

Creating an army ad nausea is the default mode. Instant board impact, mass removal recovery, endless supply of men to hold your swords and more are all powerful. After a mass removal, or when your opponent has few blockers, a 5/5 attacker will finish the game in short order and kill the majority of blockers in cube. That is exactly how Gideon was played locally for the first few months.

It turns out that instantly cashing him for an indestructible anthem was a good play in practice far more often than we have imagined. Of course it is immediate damage, which can be preferable for your tempo. In an empty board when you have two bodies out it will do immediately two damage and two every turn after, which outpaces knight making until the third turn. But when your opponent has blockers that will trade in combat with your men without the anthem bonus added, it suddenly translates to far more damage. That is in addition to pumping all your future drops, and the high ceiling with tokens.

Four is that magical spot in the curve where it can serve as both an aggro and a control card. Gideon fills both roles well. He offers more decisions and gameplay than might appear. I think he is the better Gideon now and would play him even in small cubes.

 

Planar Outburst – playable at 810 and up

5 mana sorcery wraths have never been stellar and we have just gotten the best one yet with Fumigate. Outburst’s awaken cost is especially white heavy. Still does the job but Rout and co are better.

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Quarantine Field – solid

Quarantine Field was not even among the first batch of cards I have tested from this set. In slow decks, the ability cast it for 6 or 8 mana is great. The immediate tempo swing it creates is huge. It swings board states like few other cards can and does it consistently. Unlike Oblivion Ring, which is an early answer, this is a lategame card. That is why the drawback is much lighter on Field. There is simply less time for your opponent to find an enchantment removal as the game is closer to its end. Also, with the greater number of targets there are high chances that some of them are tokens, or at least that not all of them have ETB effects.

Casting it for X=1 is much less common than I have thought, probably less than 1 out of three times. It will take a slot of a fattie/finisher during deck construction. Field should not be competing for the same slots as your cheap 1 for 1 removal spells. A mana sink in white is a rare thing. It still fights for space with fatties, cheaper removals and plenty midrange cards so it is by no means necessary.

 

Expedition Envoy – solid

This is Elite Vanguard. The ally subtype has no meaning in cube. This is needed redundancy for Savannah Lions. At 720 I believe all those semi-functional reprints are needed, at 630 maybe you could skip one of them and you surely can at 540.

 

Blue

 

Scatter to the Winds – unplayable

Cancel is bad. Holding up six mana for a counter is not feasible. A 3/3 with no evasion or abilities is very often irrelevant at the stages of the game where hoding up six mana for the ability to say no is possible. I prefer Dissolve by far and likely Dissipate too. Enough cancel+ cards exist that playing this seems unnecessary.

 

Eldrazi Skyspawner – for peasant

It looks okay on paper. However it is not easy to get good use from all parts of this card. What can you do with it? Have a 2/1 flier and a ramp of one for 3 mana? A trade with a 2 drop and a chump blocker? It can be both when needed, sure, but it has no home. Your blue three drops are better.

 

Black

 

Ruinous Path – great

Runious Path is 90% or more of the time a sorcery speed Hero’s Downfall. That is still plenty good enough. It is not far from a monoclored Maelstrom Pulse. Always live, always solid, basically universally played.

 

Ob Nixilis Reignited – solid, better than expected

Often disregarded due to reading bad and being a bit bland, it is totally a solid card. Against most aggressive decks it will just an unconditional creature removal plus life. Not really worth 5 mana at sorcery speed, but that is the absolute worst scenario barring corner cases (having him on an empty board with 1 life is worse, yes). If you can keep him alive, the card advantage is hard to overcome. There are few things more depressing than being on topdeck mode, with an empty or stalled board, facing an Ob Nixilis with 4+ loyalty.

We have to keep in the mind the lack of competition in black’s five drops. Few are the black midrange and control decks that will not main Ob. He is not a reliable finisher, but as a value card he is worth his mana and more in most matchups.

 

Drana, Liberator of Malakir – almost a staple

Drana reads better than she truly is. By herself, she is very slow. She dies to all removal spells, including all burn. Sometimes she will pump a creature or two and that is quite solid. If you do that twice you have surpassed your mana’s worth. Given her cost she rarely pumps masses of tokens, nor is she nearly as good as a true anthem for token decks when drawn late. A conflicted card that is hard to cast. Nevertheless she makes the cut until quite low cube sizes still, I’m just not as high on her as most of the community.

 

Carrier Thrall – only as a necessary evil.

A general goodstuff black two drop, but low powered. Not thrilling for any deck to have, but performing best in stacks decks. Offers a trade + chump blocker at 2 mana against aggressive decks, and in aggressive decks gives some mass removal compensation. Now we have more black two drops. It is a matter of time until Carrier Thrall is cut, but whichever amount of time it will turn out to be, that is too long in my opinion.

 

Transgress the Mind – unplayable

This is among the broadest targeted removal spells and exiling makes it one of the best answers in black to some cards. That said, it suffers from all the downsides of discard – you need to draw it before the threat you want to answer is drawn and becomes increasingly bad as the game continues. That could still be fine if it could be used as reliable disruption. As is, it will never hinder their first two turns of play, which are the most critical to disrupt. An easy pass for all cubes, perhaps barring those that are very heavy in combo decks.

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Red

 

Makindi Sliderunner – fringe playable

Sliderunner is another Gore-House Chainwalker look alike. We have Thriving Grubs and Scrapheap Scrounger as 2 much better options from Kaladesh. Borderland Marauder and War-Name Aspirant both attack for 3 much more consistently, however the natural trample of Sliderunner have been very relevant with various swords before. Ultimately a weak card that will be replaced and not missed, but I’m not unhappy to have it in the meanwhile.

 

Green

 

Nissa, Voice of Zendikar – niche

Nissa is not the sort of card that can be thrown into a random deck. The 0/1 tokens are not worth anything naturally. They chump block, repeatedly, with her having high loyalty, but you still waste a card to do that. She plays way too often as a lifegain spell. Sometimes not even that, as the tokens will be unable to block evasive beaters or will just die to a mass removal. She plays okay in token decks, being both a producer and an anthem. Thing is she is still low impact on the third turn. Her anthem is only great mid to late game, IF you have a big army. Unlike Glorious Anthem, it is undone by mass removals and will not pump future drawn critters. If she is left alone her ultimate is strong, but many three drops will be game winning if unanswered by that time frame.

Where she is good is in stacks decks, where turning those creatures into real card advantage is easy. A continuous chain of sacrifice fodder is highly abusable there. She has several other great combos that include Skullclamp, Opposition and Gaea’s Cradle. Problem for most of those decks and the tokens archetype is her heavy green cost. She is not easy to combine for value. You need to sweat and be lucky to get her to be worth a card, let alone a 3 mana one. She can do a lot, but needs specific conditions to do so.

 

Greenwarden of Murasa – fringe playable

Greenwarden was seen at the time of his printing as the promised green three drop. Up until then it was only Primeval Titan. Green is a color that really wants a 6 drops, both because it is the best accelerator and because it fills a curve gaps for cards like Green Sun’s Zenith or Survival of the Fittest. Now we have both the new Nissa as a way to recur cards and more importantly Regal Behemoth as a six drop.

Greenwarden is only a situationally good card, just like Regrowth. Sometimes your graveyard is empty, sometimes whatever you are returning cannot be cast again due to lack of targets or simply loses relevance. Sure, you can get a land back, but after you have 6, that is unlikely to alter the game much. Same with your mana elves, Force Spike or even Disenchant. Now you can say, and rightly, that by turn 6 chances are you will have something juicy or you are winning. Even if you get a bad card back, you at least get a 5/4 body with a good death trigger. Which is all true, if you play it as a midrange curve topper. As a ramp target, or something to cheat quickly into play, say via Natural Order or reanimations, it is severely lacking. A 5/4 with no evasion that by those stages of the game is unlikely to even have 2 targets if answered. Greenwarden fills only some of the roles we want our green fatties to fill and is not that strong even in his best home due to slowness and low board impact upon resolution. A filler that can easily be cut.

 

Woodland Wanderer – playable

Wanderer is consistently a 5/5. It has a combo with Unexpected Potential. This is definitely a solid creature. It survives burn spells, punches through chump blockers and is a quick clock while defending you. None of this is any wrong or inefficient. The problems here are related to cube archetype design – this card is strong against aggressive decks, especially red, while being weak against control. It doesn’t survive the Vindicate test, and is easy to remove for most colors. Against slower decks, his vigilance is of little value and so will usually be his trample. As such he is making your strong matchups stronger and weak matchups weaker. This is really not what you want to be doing, but rather round out each deck so you have more of a fighting chance and as a cube builder create more interactive games. Being unplayable in heavy green decks and not working with cheat effects are other major drawbacks.

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Colorless

 

Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger – a staple of several common archetypes, otherwise unplayable

The biggest, baddest, meanest creature mana can buy. Ulamog ticks off all the boxes fatties need to fill. If cast he offers some of the better means of stabilization. He is durable to removals. He kills very quickly, and kind of has evasion. In many matchups one attack trigger will be enough to seal the deal. He is cheatable with reanimation, Channel and more. A great combo with Sneak Attack. He even gains you some value even if countered. Ulamog rises above the oldrazi and he is even cheaper than two of them.

Emrakul stole his thunder, mostly by being more castable therefore much more playable. Ulamog is therefore only the second best eldrazi. He is still the best reason to go super ramp or Channel so he is a must if you want to support that strategy. In large cubes that wants to support super ramp and cheat decks, I think the minimal number of eldrazi you should be playing is 4 making Ulamog is a shoe-in for most.

 

Hedron Archive – staple due to lack of options, solid by power level alone

We have limited options of colorless rocks at this cost. A double Mind Stone, this is perhaps the best big mana rock in control. It is also good in mana ramp decks, of course, but they usually prefer mana efficiency over it if possible. That said, ramp decks are prone to floods and losing all their gas, and getting 2 extra cards is big game. Still better in control, which can sacrifice this at end of turn or dig for a specific answer when needed. In control there is usually little interest in getting over 7 mana or so, therefore Thran Dynamo is an overkill and you lose less by ditching the Hedron.

 

Multicolored

 

Catacomb Sifter – playable

A fine card with all kinds of value yet fair. It can get you two blockers, two attackers, one shot minimal ramp and some card selection. However it is never an ideal card for the job. It is the type of card B/G decks that are not too much combo oriented will play, unexcitedly. It is easy to trade with, easy to ignore, easy to kill. Yes, you will usually gain some small value but that value is all the card can ever do and that is not often better than mono colored three drops that advance your game plan. Green and black have plenty of good three drops as is.

 

Kiora, Master of the Depths – playable

Kiora is a fine planeswalker. Her most common comparison is inevitably to her older version, Kiora, the Crashing Wave. She compares favorably in most decks. She has more starting loyalty, which can be as high as five. She doesn’t die to every burn spell. She can dig for specific answers and generates card advantage from the get go. This is a very rare virtue of planeswalkers. In general you feel pretty good even if all Kiora did was draw 2 cards out of four and absorb some damage. She also fills your graveyard for blue delve cards, Tarmogoyf and Emrakul.

This is all assuming you do have a high creature count. Most green decks do, and they appreciate the extra gas drawn. In blue based decks old kiora is better. She protects you and herself very well. Crashing Wave is better in a superfriends build, or a Simic control deck. She’s valuable as the deck lacks removals. Unfortunately she is at her strongest against midrange and weakest against aggro, so she makes your best matchups better and weakest matchups weaker. On the other hand Master of Depths has a near useless first ability. Going for the ultimate with her is less reliable and she can be a dead card if your deck size is low.

Overall the value of one Kiora version over the other is dependent on the common Simic archetypes in your cube. Both Kioras are playable but entirely skippable. Blue and green have plenty of value at this point of the curve and both are not really splashworthy. Even if we take Jace, Architect of Thought, he is about equal to Kiora, Master of Depths while being monocolored. Kiora is the Dovin Baan of Simic. Simic is a significantly weaker guild than Azorius though which is why the Kioras are playable.

 

Lands

 

The Tango lands – recommended

The Tango lands are solid. They are interesting in that as far as the lands themselves go in a vacuum, they are weak. Almost always they enter the battlefield tapped when it matters. They are very close to the guildgates. In that regard, the drawback has been harsher than anticipated. But that is not why we play them. We pack them for their basic land types. They can be fetched by fetchlands, Nature’s Lore, Three Visits, Farseek and Wood Elves. They can be sacrificed for Fireblast. They strengthen Vedalken Shackles. They work with Sundering Titan. Turns out guildgates with basic land types are good and useful. They are definitely below fetches, shocks, duals and manlands. I like painlands more too. But after that, they are fair game and are generally better than filters and check lands. I’ll complete the cycle when it is printed.

 

Lumbering Falls – staple

A card that is hard to answer. Not cheap and not evasive, but it is near impossible to kill with spells. It is also a reliable blocker in times of need. Lumbering falls rarely ends game on its own as a measly 3/1 will trade with it– the average red/black two drop, and his colors are removal light. However it does attack often, prevents planeswalkers from being played and more in addition to fixing your mana.

 

Shambling Vent – staple

Shambling Vent reads bad, but plays great. A 2/3 is unassuming but does so much work while racing. It is almost a Vampire Nighthawk when both players leave no blockers behind. The size is big enough to contain small creatures, and you gain value even while blocking or being chump blocked with tokens. A 2/3 lifelinker wins the race against a 3/3. Vent makes alpha striking you that much more difficult. In white there are plenty of ways to pump this, from Elspeth to anthems, which cause huge life swings. B/W aggro is weak to red aggro, so a card that is good in that matchups is a blessing.

Magic Origins Year in Review Part 4 – Rankings

(Reads previous parts of this year in review here – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

This set was phenomenal. It is the best core set in history for the format by far and one of the best sets period. A lot of the cards will find home in cubes for years to come. I’ve ranked below what I believe are the top 20 cards from the set. I currently play/should be playing the top 19 of them. A year from now I expect to still be running the top 14. Some sets even have a hard time providing 10 worthy contenders!

 

20) Sword of the Animist

19) Nissa’s Pilgrimage

18) Scab-Clan Berserker

17) Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh

16) Foundry of the Consuls

15) Abbot of Keral Keep

14) Evolutionary Leap

13) Exquisite Firecraft

12) Harbinger of the Tide

11) Goblin Glory Chaser

10) Relic Seeker

9) Liliana, Heretical Healer

8) Consul’s Lieutenant

7) Whirler Rogue

6) Hangarback Walker

5) Nissa, Vastwood Seer

4) Pia and Kiran Nalaar

3) Languish

2) Kytheon, Hero of Akros

  1. Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy

Magic Origins Year in Review Part 3 – Overperformers

(Part 1 and Part 2 of this review dealt with cards that performed below or equal to expactations)

 

Consul’s Lieutenant

This seemed like another name in the list of good cards for WW that are not quite there yet in the powerlevel between 1W drops to 2W drops to see play. Turns out this guy is the real deal, so much so I’ve cut a 1W card for it. This is the turn two drop you want to play while they are playing their mana rocks. A 3/2 first striker is hard for many decks to deal with and is usually relevant even in the late game with equipments, mass pump or burn. Worst case, a 3/2 first striker is highly relevant on the defense while you are waiting to assemble that alpha strike, which CL will significantly pump.

Yes, it is better with the presence of tokens but they are not necessary for him to shine, he is just a solid aggressive card, he packs a lot of punch for a two drop.

 

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Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy

An admitted printing mistake by Wizard, the card saw play in all formats down to eternal ones. The question is just how strong this card is. I am going to explain why this card is so strong and then try to rate it compared to other cards.

Looters do work. I still play three (Looter il-Kor, Thought Courier, Enclave Cryptologist) and I always consider playing the fourth as well besides JVP (Merfolk Looter). They are tremendous in providing card quality in the long run. They smooth your mana flow and colors and find your answer cards in time. Every hand with two lands and a looter is basically keepable in all matchups but against red, and usually even then. Blue decks lack quality low drop plays and while it is common to see looters ride in the sideboard especially if you have more than one you are not sad to run them (again an exception against the fastest decks can be made). Looters age very well within the game, being solid topdecks in the late game too, certainly compared to other two drops.

On top of that the synergy they provide is high. They serve as discard outlets for reanimator decks, they make delve spells cheaper and they combo with flashback cards and Gravecrawler/Bloodghast. JVP is basically a looter on crack. It has a base 0/2 looter’s body and THAT IS ALREADY PLAYABLE. Just to put things in proportions, that is the worst case scenario and it is up to the competition already. Of course, it is by far the best looter to draw in the late game.

Jace is ridiculously easy to flip, it has natural synergy with its first ability and with cards called instants and sorceries. It is effortless and will be automatic in the late game too. It can do cool shenanigans like block then flip and the turn you flip it you can both loot and activate it on the same turn. A looter that you can cash in for a spell from your graveyard later? Already good, but JVP offers so much more.

What if I have no spells in my graveyard, or no mana to cast them this turn? Fear not as he has a plus ability that will both help you and him survive. Did I mentioned that if you use the plus ability he starts out with amazing 6 loyalty? With the -2/-0 on top he can survive unaided in many boards state, absorbing significant tempo. How many two drops will do that? Not many. Even if all he does is 2 loots and absorb that is ~8 life and that’s certainly worth a card and two mana. That is still worse than the average case scenario.

You will usually have things to recur. Normally you will replay removals. In the best cases it will be Time Walk, but even just a humble Ponder is pure card advantage on top of your two drop. There were some concern of lack of synergy with delve cards – Jace wants a big graveyard and they empty it. It turns out the synergy is still there – Jace fills up your graveyard fairly quickly and you can usually wait to cast that Dig through Time after Jace if flipped (then maybe cast it a second time!).

What about the best case scenario? What does Jace lack? That’s right, a way to win the game, so they added that too. The ultimate is rarely used as it is slow compared to flashing back spells, and you usually do not have that much breathing room, but I have seen it happen too. Your opponent sees the cards in your graveyard and the threat of activation and defensive abilities leading you to have some more gas in hand by the time you flip it. Once you get there, playing 3-5 spells to win the game is usually quite academic. That is the most underrated aspect of JVP still – he is a win condition and not just utility.  It is a two drop that must be answered. You should not count on it, but it is there and it will do the job should you need that.

The bad thing to say against Jace are that it is slow and therefore it feels fair to your opponent if you win with it. It also dies to all removal spells of course. This is not a concern for two drops, as most do not survive removals and anyway your opponent will not gain significant tempo, in fact he will likely lose tempo just to deal with it. Most opponents will go out of their way to kill JVP and rightfully so. In the list of must-remove terrifying two drops it is up there near the top. Only the best 2 drops in the game are ahead of it – Dark Confidant, Pack Rat, Rofellos and maybe a few more. JVP has less immediate impact than any of those therefore it is not as urgent to remove him, but he is close in powerlevel.

So how strong is he, exactly? Dark Condifant is better in an aggressive deck, Pack Rat is sometimes nigh unstoppable, Rofellos is explosive. But they are all narrower cards. Confidant rides the sideboard many times due to high curves, Rofellos requires heavy green, Pack Rat is not a control card and worse than JVP in the late game and against mass removals and bounce. JVP is weaker than all of them in my opinion as a first pick in the draft, but not as a cube card. JVP can be slotted effortlessly into basically any blue deck. I’ve played him with three applicable instant and sorceries before (counters and such do not count here). Not ideal but still a tremendous deal for two mana and still better than the competition.

Even Snapcaster Mage cannot do that. A deck with a low amount of targets will be stuck with a 2/1 bear. Sure, instant speed is sweet and the effect is usually immediate, but JVP has a higher ceiling and much broader playability. Higher ceiling because Snapcaster Mage will ever cast only one spell and will almost always just be a 2-for-1. Jace has been 5-for-1 before. With Snapcaster Mage, you have to pay his mana cost in addition to the spell during the same turn, JVP will split the costs nicely. I think it is now clear that JVP is the number one 2 drop in blue.

I even think there is some merit to claim it is the number 1 Jace, above TMS. I am not ready so say it yet, but it might be so. Of course TMS will win you more games, but it costs twice as much and twice as much blue – by the time you’ve cast TMS you already were in a better position to begin with.

Like I said before, JVP doesn’t feel unfair to lose to like Pack Rat. JVP offers choices, and yes, it is ultimately fairly easy to answer in most decks for at least a small time frame. Therefore while the card is seriously strong we do not see cubes cutting it for being too powerful either. A fun, amazing card that will have a permanent homes in cubes worldwide for years.

 

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Pia and Kiran Nalaar

Pia and Kiran looked well from the get go. They pack so much in one card it is amazing. Even at face value, four power for four mana, two of it evasive and passes the Terminate test with further Shocks down the road, the Nalaartificers are playable in all theaters of red decks.

I’ve expected it to be better than it truly is in aggro. It is a fine curve topper, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it on the sideboard as even things like Hero of Oxid Ridge are far better for what you want. On the other hand they are far better as generic counterburn/ramp/control cards than I ever thought they would be. Obviously they are immense in token decks (though I no longer play Purphoros, God of the Forge or Goblin Bombardment) and artifact decks. They also offers some synergies for Alesha/Recruiter/Reveillark, and Flickerwisp/Crystal Shard or they are simply three permanents for Smokestack too.

But it turns out that even with no obvious synergy in mind they are awesome in slower decks with mana to spare. Throwing away useless mana rocks in the late game is common and quite strong. They are good planeswalkers assault options, as both the flying two power and distributable shocks are hard to stop. In general the threat of activation and amount of options give you so much control it can be daunting. Let us not forget that on defense it is as good as Whirler Rogue, and is an okay way to chump fliers (Baneslayer Angel will not even gain life) or go over Moat. I’ve seen players cast a mass removal spell when P&K were the only creatures on board too (plus their tokens).

I now think they obsoleted Siege-Gang Commander, despite the ability costing one more. Turns out getting online faster, having flying and the artifact synergy are more than enough to offset that. Note, both are great, it just shows how impressive P&K are. To find a card with so many applications on top of a very efficient main use is truly rare and I have a hard time seeing P&K leaving cubes even in the time frame of four years from now.

 

Managorger Hydra

I do not like the card but there’s no denying it seeing fringe some cube play for some reason. I definitely didn’t foresee that. It is a three drop that grows slowly, offers little defensive value the turn you play it, is a horrible topdeck and by the time it is a 4/4 trampler, it is not stronger than the other board and is easily dealt with by any removal.

 

Evolutionary Leap

A synergy card in green, EL does nothing on its own and without some help will always get card parity. Considering you can just play a good threat over it, the card seemed awful to me, but it turns out there is more to it. Just having a sacrifice outlet, in green especially, is useful as it nullifies spot removals and usually mass removals too. It turns out it doesn’t matter much which creatures you are hoping to get with it. Just the ability to late game cycle your mana elves to even just four drops will be a major boon in long games and worth a card.

Now we can also get funky. Leap is great for triggering death triggers, be it Solemn Simulacrum or Yavimaya Elder. It is obviously great with small tokens and Nisssa, Voice of Zendikar that came after it is EL’s new BFF. In general it is good with the class of creatures that have their power in their ETB effect and not their body. Wood Elves, Eternal Witness, Bone Shredder, Solemn Simulacrum etc. will inevitably reach a point in the game when their bodies do not matter. You have already gained enough value from them that replacing them is a serious advantage. The small bodies are more common in green than other colors too as they are needed for cards like Gaea’s Cradle, Natural Order and Survival of the Fittest.

The best home for it is in a stacks and tokens decks. A combo with Skullclamp, Gravecrawler, Bitterblossom, Bloodghast and Meren of Clan Nel Toth on top of my head. This is a fun archetype to draft and play too which bolsters the card. That said in many games you do not have the luxury of getting slow cumulative advantages – you need something that could at least block or have a board impact, and in that regard EL can be a win more card.

The card is not a must have, and I can see it going either way in the future – from getting loads of more support cards to have fewer left in the cube than the present. It is certainly playable now, if not necessarily something you will miss out on.

 

nissa_vastwood_seer

 

Nissa, Vastwood Seer

Nissa requires seven lands to flip and starts out as worse than Civic Wayfinder. I even included Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh before her. Turns out I was completely wrong here. In the early days of cube, Civic Wayfinder and his brother Borderland Ranger were seeing play for years. They are cheap ways to get a 2-for-1, provide splahable fixing and they even saw constructed play. The competition of creatures really hurt them, as a 2/2 for three is not nearly as impressive as before, the require a large number of basics and fixing at turn four the earliest is not as exciting anyway. They are still solid against aggressive decks but slower matchups will ignore them completely and they are bad topdecks. Nissa still plays the same old role against aggressive decks – she is worse at fixing, way worse even, but that doesn’t matter much. Unlike Wayfinder, she is a ridiculous topdeck usually, so much so she is a few leagues above him and she is probably a 360 material even.

Let us start with that flip trigger. It is not trivial at all, but playing lands and ramping is something you will likely do anyway in the game, it requires no effort or resources. Against aggressive decks she is unlikely to transform, but against control, the worst matchup for green decks, it will happen more often than not. Then she will provide something green lacks almost entirely – card advantage. This is exactly the type of effect I want to have in those long grindy matchups, preventing running out of steam.

I find that I almost always start with making a 4/4 token – it has the most immediate impact on the board state, as I usually flip her the turn I play her with the land she brought as not to open her up to sorcery speed removal. Only if I anticipate a mass removal or there is an on board bounce (Jace TMS) I will not beget the bodyguard. Then even if she dies, getting a land+ a 4/4+ absorbing some damage or removal for three mana is one hell of a deal. In cases when she is played earlier in the curve, most opponents will go through some efforts to kill her if there is a reasonable chance to flip her within the game, as she is much harder to deal with later.

Because she offers so much help in Green’s toughest matchups and due to her uniqueness, splashability, roundedness and fun factor I think she is the third best of the flipwalkers cycle and a lock for cubes.

 

Hangarback Walker

Maybe the reason this whole article series was written this card was a serious surprise. In some top 20 lists of cube cards from Magic: Origins it didn’t even make an appearance! A card that dominated type 2 and limited, this has all the qualities of a true format staple – it is broad, it is synergistic and it is of the right power level.

Versatility – Hangarback Walker is colorless which is a good start already. It fits every deck type. In control decks this is a cheap 2 for 1 against aggression, while being a must answer threat in the mirror. It is basically the same in aggro too with the perk of being a golden answer to mass removals. When a control deck faces this on the second turn, what option does it have, if its removals are not of the exile kind? There is no good answer to that. Wait and you will face a huge beater and army of fliers. Change your tempo plan and you still got 2-for-1ed. Ramp decks are obviously the best home as they can dump a huge HBW quite early and he is a good mana sink.

Synergy – Where to even start? Token decks – flying armies like mass pump. Artifact decks – a good Trinket Mage target, this is quite the fodder for Tinker and is happy with Goblin Welder and Daretti too. In stacks decks, it is ample sacrifice fodder for all your filthy desires. It then has some odd random synergies too. It is survives The Abyss. It was played for 0 before to trigger Liliana, Heretical Healer. It is good with Channel. It can both grow and attack with Ral Zarek. It triggers Westvale Abbey on its own sometimes. It dances tango with Kalonian Hydra. The list is long, and new synergies are discovered all the time.

Power Level – HBW is not strong enough that I can see cubes banning him. It can be argued that he is a bit slow, however he will basically see play in every deck, as a sideboard card at worst. His versatility makes him one of the best early picks available. Besides, the competition at the artifact creature section is basically nonexistent.

 

thopter

 

Foundry of the Consuls

Perhaps the most surprising card to see on this list, I completely dismissed it. Mana bases in the cube have grown stronger enough that getting a few colorless utility lands in control decks is strong. In a draft format that getting enough playables is almost a given, eeking out advantage out of your land slots will give you an edge.

Yes, the card together with Gargoyle Castle won games. Just as a double chump blocker, planeswalker pinging and win con through The Abyss or Moat, this land doesn’t do a lot but the opportunity cost is so low most decks will play her if they can. It only got better with the addition of colorless mana.

Furthermore, from design aspects I like decks to have access to mana sinks like that. It makes them more interactive even if you are mana flooded, you run out of things to do later, get more relevant topdecks and of course they are skill intensive during draft and while on board. We got two serious new competitors in Westvale Abbey and Mirrorpool, so I cannot say this will be in forever, but I thoroughly enjoy it and recommend you to try it out too in large cubes.

 

Pyromancer’s Goggles

The card wasn’t on my radar and only recently got recognition. Red burn decks do not want to hold back spells just so they can play them after a five drop, that does nothing on its own might I add. That said, as we have learned from Double Stroke every burn spell doubled is a serious game. A double Lightning Bolt is both a sure way to stabilize against creatures and planeswalkers and still removes a huge chunk of an opponents life should you need it. I have heard stories from other cubes of double Fiery Confluence for 12 damage to the dome. Since we are getting back to Kaladesh red artifacts might be a thing and Goggles will then get some proper testing time.

Magic Origins Year in Review – part 2 – underperformers

Part 1 can be read here, about cards that filled their expectations

 

Relic Seeker

One of the cases where I overrated the card but the cube community did not. It is a middle white two drop, which in a section that big means he is about the 9th best or so, and perhaps 10 cards or so from the bottom. In reality it is a relatively secure place to be in.

I however thought it might be better in cube than Stoneforge Mystic. The reasoning was that without an equipment, which is not uncommon to never get in a large cube, Stoneforge is unplayable while Seeker is. In any case, the threat of getting a broken artifact will likely mean Relic Seeker gets killed and blocked way more than a two drop should. I was only partially right.

Card advantage on a two drop is still almost unheard of, equipments are among the best cards in cube and Seeker is still more playable than SFM without them. However, it is not close in powerlevel to Equipment Girl even in a large cube (Stoneforge is much weaker in that environment than in a small cube, where you can count on seeing top end equipments). First and obviously, the ceiling of Stoneforge is much higher (Batterskull). Second, SFM, if you do have an equipment to fetch, is a much better card in the late game. Getting a Sword of Good and Game/Jitte/Skullclamp/Batterskull is often gamewinning and actually better in the mid game than in turn two/three.

Another perk is that the threat of activation is not at all that scary. Decks with instant speed removal and counters can deal with you fetching an equipment fairly well and plan a blowout as they see it coming. In any way, since it does next to nothing immediately, it is not a must kill. It is a vigilanceless Topan Freeblade if you drew your equipment or are playing without. Playable, but likely a 24th last resort card there to fix your emergency curve.

Like Stoneforge, one broken equipment is enough to run it comfortably. Run two equipments of any powerlevel and it becomes great. If your sole equipment is a Bonesplitter or Trusty Machete however, Relic Seeker is still good enough for the main deck while Stoneforge is not. The perk against it is that with equipment being so scarce, and with the trend of recent years will continue to be so, justifying two narrow cards is hard and Seeker loses the competition to SFM in smaller cubes.

Overall it is still a serviceable card and I foresee years of play still waiting for him, but I had bloated expectations.

 

Vryn Wingmare

Taxing is good obviously and Thalia into this will roll many enemies. However, in times you don’t it is doubtful whether this is worth the extra mana on top of Mistral Charger, a solid beater but far from a top white two drop. This kind of effect is also exponentially better the earlier you can get it on – with Thalia it will prevent them casting their Farseek and signet on curve, if ever, but Wingmare just arrives too late to the party.

Then yet again, white three drops are extremely competitive and leave the horsie in the dust. Maybe one day we will be able a lot of redundancy in the taxing effect and it will make Wingmare sought after, but I do not count on it.

 

Harbinger of the Tides

The card proved weaker than anticipated, however I still like it more than most. Having double blue and bouncing only tapped creatures restricts it. That said, blue still lacks two drops and early tempo plays and this is a solid player against blue’s worst matchups, aggressive decks. It is also good later in the game. I usually find myself playing this at four mana as a surprise bounce + blocker (especially nasty after they equip). Reality is that there are few tapped creatures by the second turn of the game. However, sometimes you need the mana for something else, sometimes you want to bounce+counter a tapped creature an opponent controls and sometimes you do not draw your fourth land in time and that cheap cost is clutch.

Being poor offensively is limiting. This is a far cry from Venser, Shaper Savant as it cannot bounce spells for easy time walks. It is worse than Man-O-War, being less splashable, reactive and not having an enters the battlefield trigger you can get value from turn after turn repeatedly. Not bouncing your own critters is also minor yet relevant. Splashability is a serious issue with bounce effects in blue as it limits the ability to bounce a threat than have the mana open to counter it. It is about the powerlevel of Aether Adept – definitely on the bottom 50% of blue in cube, but not likely getting cut in the next two years.

 

relic_seeker.jpg

 

Priest of the Blood Rite

Such a high potential. So many hopes followed its release only to be crushed. Black had a power drop off at casting cost 5 and still has. After Shriekmaw, the creatures are a bit embarrassing. The two Ob Nixilises help somewhat, but that is not nearly enough for a large cube. Priest has 7 power for five mana, five of it is evasive. On top of that it is a highly abusable effect, if you can bounce the pries, reanimate or flicker it. You do have to pay for that kind of power though, and pay dearly. Black still has many cards that cost life, from Thoughtseize to Bitterblossom and they add up. If you are behind, Priest plays defense poorly. In many situations you outright cannot play it.

What is even worse, and the major reason why Priest is such a disappointment is that if the token is dealt with you are left with a 2/2 Grizzly Bear that loses you 2 life on your upkeep. That’s the opposite of surviving the terminate test! On its own, the body will lose you the race singlehandedly, not to mention walls, evasive threats and so on. Spending a removal spell on that 5/5 is a great play for your opponents as it leaves you with a serious liability.

Also it turns out that while a 5/5 black flier is robust, being a token opens you to many blowouts in the form of bounce and blink (Flickerwisp). It is also a magnet for Oblivion Ring effects as the token will never return. It’s true that the drawback can be mitigated with sacrifice outlets but a 5/5 flier for 3BB is not enough payoff to do so.

Do not play this card, it will lose the game far more often than do something cool.

 

Despoiler of Souls

How bad can a recurring aggressive creature be? Despoiler is not unplayable, but now I firmly believe it is not of cube powerlevel. The double cost, especially in a color full of color intensive two drops is a real disadvantage (Hymn to Tourach, Sinkhole, Vampire Hexmage, Bloodghast, Relentless Dead, Malicious Affliction, Necropotence). The 3/1 body is puny and dies to literally everything, including all non-plant tokens and loses relevance rapidly in the late game. That weakness is amplified as it cannot trade up on defense.

The saving grace could have been the recursion ability. Alas, it is also black heavy and situational. Despite playing the card for a bit over a year, I have probably seen it recur once. Most of the time it couldn’t be recurred, most of the rest it wasn’t worth the resources to use the ability, as a 3/1 with no evasion that cannot block is not really relevant for anything. Usually self-recurring creatures are chainable with sacrifice outlets and do some work. However, due to the cost and the recursion condition none of this is possible with Despoiler. I now think it is a safe pass for all cubes.

 

Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh

The black sheep of her cycle, Chandra has the narrowest and hardest transformation trigger of all flipwalkers. In every game creatures will die, cards will be put into your graveyard and lands will be played.Chandra’s flip trigger is not as natural.

Her base form is awful. A 2/2 for 1RR is terrible. Pinging players by tapping is slow and low-impact even if you can untap her every other turn or so. In short, you’ll only play her in decks where she has a high chance of flipping every game – this is absolutely essential. Which decks fit that description? For starters, only heavy red decks. True, Chandra can attack herself for two then one spell will trigger her flip (most commonly you will attack then cast a burn spell to both clear her way and untap her) but it has to be a red spell and it is rare your opponent will not be able to at least chump block her given it is the fourth turn the earliest and he has a turn to prepare. The more usual way is to play two red spells in the same turn.

This is more limiting than it looks. You need to have a lot of red spells, 10 or more at minimum if you would want to have a chance to flip her in any frequency. In mono red decks this is easy, in a two colored aggro decks not really. All your artifacts also do not count. Most red spells cost less than three mana and therefore will be played before her. Thing is, even in mono red decks she is not a bomb.

If your deck has any card flow problems, she will not flip, period. Mana flood? Not enough spells to flip her. Mana screw? Not enough mana to play them. Color screw, or just a bunch of colorless lands? You cannot play her easily, much less so more red spells. In any case she is among the worst topdecks, barring an opponent on life total 2 or less. Her impact when you are behind is nonexistent. In a heavy-burn deck she is at home but Guttersnipe is still likely better. In a general heavy red deck, Shrine of Burning Rage is better as it attacks from a different angle (spot removal cannot stop you) and gives you inevitability often.

With all that bashing, she is still a decent card. The best thing going for her is the threat of flipping. Her flip side is so aggressive and brutal that your opponent will likely go a great length to remove her and block her. Having one sided Sulfuric Vortex with upsides is worth jumping through some hoops. True she doesn’t pass the Vindicate test, but for a three drop you do not really care. She can keep planeswalkers in check quite effectively too.

Overall she is right on the cusp of a 720 cube. Many new red three drops came out, specifically Sin Prodder and Geier Reach Bandit, which are splashable. It is more a choice of how much you want to support RDW than anything else. She likely deserves some testing and should see play for at least another year if near mono red decks are popular in your cube.

 

chandra

 

Abbot of Keral Keep

This is less of a two drop than Shriekmaw is. A 2/1 prowess for 2/1 is rarely worth a card. Sometimes you will do it, say if you do not have a 2 drop or you are under a Winter Orb lock and need a threat/blocker. However, if at all possible try to avoid it. With 3-4 mana open the card shines. Red lacks card advantage and Abbot is just that, on top of a playable WCS body. It is not a high pick even in aggressive decks, his only home basically, but he is better than most two drops as the game gets longer as he gains you more reach. In non aggro decks the curve is too high to be able to play the revealed card on the same turn profitably. Another strike against it is that he is basically a worse Ire Shaman, which has a better body at all stages and the trigger only costs you one mana at the time you want to cast the revealed spell. He is different and powerful enough to earn a spot in large cubes for at least the next year or so, but it is not thrilling.

 

Molten Vortex

Molten Vortex is an effect we have never seen before and was seriously over-hyped when it came out. The closest comparison is Seismic Assault, a card that spawned combo decks in constructed and was also featured in mono red burn decks for late game reach. Vortex is a cheaper version of it that is much less demanding on the mana base therefore way more playable. However the card translated poorly to cube. It still requires you to be red heavy if you want to get any meaning uses from it (discarding two or more lands a turn). In cube you have many mana sinks, aggro decks usually play 16 lands and even less if any form of mox is involved. You usually do want to keep at least four lands on the battlefield, and extra lands beyond that can still be useful for landfall, activating that Needle Spires of just discarding to Faithless Looting. In general, you often had higher priorities than translating lands into shocks, while getting card disadvantaged to your own card. A simple Volcanic Hammer consistently did more, quicker and unconditionally.

 

Scab-Clan Berserker

A hasty critter that can become a one sided Eidolon of the Great Revel. Well, turns out this is wrong. A 2/2 haste for three mana had troubles connecting as it trades with one drops. The double red cost is troubles for a card you want to cast early. The trigger is not as busted as anticipated – against many enemies it will not deal damage during the game. It will rarely if ever punish them for early ramp and getting a shock off of a mass removal is nice but not tremendous. Obviously the card is near blank if you are behind. Like Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh, both are near the bottom of the red three drop section. Both suffer from newly printed red three drops significantly.

 

harbinger

 

Woodland Bellower

Green has a weak spot in the curve at six. It is a well-known problem. Basically by the time Origins came out Primeval Titan was the only competitive option, with Rampaging Baloths being a very distant second (for those interested why it is so much worse, as the card does read strong: it is much worse facing removals, requires additional land drops, is a worse topdeck and reanimation target most of the time and has comparable ceiling anyway). Enter Woodland Bellower.

Woodland Bellower offers immediate value and board position. Everyone thought about Reclamation Sage; fetching that you get a solid 3-for-1. The problem is twofold. First, it is way too narrow. Many decks that would have loved a finisher or a fattie simply didn’t have enough targets to run it – only green, nonlegendary creatures is highly restrictive. Moreover, while getting a fat Tarmogoyf is solid, or an Eternal Witness, this is the kind of value I expect from my six drop. With Bellower, this is the best case scenario – there are few creatures that it can fetch and will be actually worth a card or two at that stage of the game and you have a high chance of drawing them before you cast the bear with antlers. Sure, getting a Llanowar Elves with Bellower technically does pass the Doom Blade test, but it still a bad deal for you no matter how you slice it.

Two more notches against it are the unimpressive body that lacks any evasion and his trigger being so insignificant it is not worthy of abuse. Consider how strong Prime Time is with Recurring Nightmare and Phantasmal Image and how feeble Bellower is. The nonlegendary clause is actually relevant – Rofellos, Edric and Nissa, Vastwood Seer or not only some of the higher priority targets they are a significant portions of the total available targets.

With that said, Bellower gained some value recently with the printing of several strong green two and three drops that scale well into the late/midgame, like Sylvan Advocate, Tireless Tracker and Duskwatch Recruiter. Theoretically I can see a point where it will be a worthy inclusion but we are not nearly there.

With all that bashing it is clear that I think Primeval Titan and Rampaging Baloths are better. But since then a new guy arrived that removed it further down the list – Greenwarden of Murasa. It ticks all the boxes Bellower failed at admirably and is now by quite some margin the second best green six drop. It is inevitable in my opinion Bellower will eventually be better than Baloths but it is unlikely it will ever beat Greenwarden. Anyway the power gap here is so huge that most large cubes only play the top two contenders.

 

Sword of the Animist

Sword has no home. It is not powerful enough for the cost and measly pump. +1/+1 does not dramatically alter the board state like a Bonesplitter will and barely enables your creatures to trade up with anything. Paying four mana for the first equip is harsh with aggressive decks, the prominent equipment users, and they do not desire the ramp much anyway. Slower ramp decks will want more reliable and immediate ramp and also a lot of them do not pack enough creatures. This is a fairly fun card to play just really weak by cube standards.

Magic Origins Year in Review Part 1 – fulfillers

Magic Origins Year in Review

Magic origins was a stellar set for cube. The whole year following its release was above average as well. From flipwalkers, Thopter tokens and new staple effects like Languish, this is a set that will have a lasting legacy on the format. As far as changes in evaluation of cards, this set has about equal quantities of underhyped, overhyped and properly evaluated. While seeming balanced, it means about 2/3 of the cards were evaluated wrongly, a sign of an interesting skill intensive set indeed.

 

Met expectations

Ordered in color order

 

Kytheon, Hero of Akros

Kytheon is obviously great. A 2/1 for W still makes most large cubes. Add the activated ability and you have a winner right there and then. It wouldn’t be the best 1 drop just for the front side, but it would be around number 3 or 4. I think his activated ability is one of the most misused in the cube. I find it to be generally not worth the tempo to keep the 2/1 body alive if it is blocked or is blocking. Even gaining a planeswalker from it is not always worth skipping a three drop. That said it is obviously good if you do not want to overextend, when you are flooded or when it is topdecked later in the game.

The flip trigger is not trivial but not hard to achieve. A gross estimation by feeling would be that it flips about 40% of the games it is played in. The flip side is powerful, probably worth about three mana, which is fittingly what you will usually pay to get it. Sometimes there will be games where you will get it for free which is amazing and the highest ceiling for a one drop in the cube by far (with no additional mana investment). The default ability of this planeswalker is the +1 – the one you will use the turn it is flipped. It provides both defense for your life total, increases his loyalty and secures you against removals.

In general one of the reasons why Kytheon is so great is that he gives another angle of attack and shores up the great weakness of decks going wide – mass removals. The 4/4 attacker will survive it and often help your best dude survive too, rendering them quite useless. That is of course if you haven’t committed a suicide attack to flip Gideon – another common mistake.

The only negatives are the inflated expectations players have sometimes. All said and done it is an upper-middle of the pack pick (4 pick is a somewhat generous estimation). It is not the white Goblin Guide, a respectable first pick in most cubes that support aggro well. It is an interactive card – I like the minigame it creates where you try to reach the critical mass of attackers and your opponent tries to deny that. It is also not a binary condition – even if Gideon flips the game is not lost and you cannot go to auto-pilot mode as is common with highly-conditional cube quality cards. By all means include it in your cube.

gideon

Archangel of Tithes

It is a fair card, which is just a polite word in the cube community to say  subpar. No archetype really wants it – it is not aggressive enough, not defensive enough, has no application aside of prison decks and has a highly restrictive cost on top of all that.

 

Whirler Rogue

Whriler Rogue was a tad undervalued when it came out. Now I think everyone appreciates its power. Blue has some of the best four drop creatures, namely Sower of Temptation, Venser Shaper Savant and Glen Elendra Archmage. After that trifecta, Whirler Rogue stands without much opposition. It provides what blue lacks most – board presence, immediately and for cheap. It is a triple blocker and a potential 3-for-1 against aggressive decks. The evasive tokens do work at whittling down planeswalkers and carrying equipments. The activated ability is no flavor text either – note that you can use any artifact for it, and it is active the very turn you play Rogue. Of course the interaction with Opposition is also popular.

Master of Waves has a much higher ceiling than Rogue, but it is so much narrower that I think I’d prefer Rogue in any cube. A 2/2 + two 1/1 fliers are better than a pair of 2/1s, and likely around the powerlevel of three 2/1, considering they’d all die to a single piece of removal, or conversely any blocker will deter the original master from attacking. Master is also not resuable with bounce/flicker/Recurring Nightmare unless the tokens have been killed in other ways before you do so. Whirler Rogue is ripe for abuse.

In conclusion Rogue is blue’s army-in-a-can just like Cloudgoat Ranger or Deranged Hermit. It is the 4th best blue four drop by a good margin and is secured for years.

 

Liliana, Heretical Healer

Liliana was the first flipwalker previewed. Probably the highest-profile of all cycles in history, this cycle almost feels like a new card type. Part planeswalker and part creature, the whole cycle is at least somewhat justifiable to run in a large cube with four out of the five being locks. They feature interesting design, each being his own mini-game. They almost feel like a new card type. In all of them the creature side is a little below what you would otherwise get for their cost, but do not let that fool you – they are great.

A 2/3 for 1BB is obviously below the curve but still a useful body in aggro mirrors, especially due to lifelink and black’s tendency to lose life. 2/3s in general are on the rise in the cube and they are great in the format to counter all the 2/2 and 2/1 bodies around. Sylvan Advocate, Reflector Mage and Shambling Vent are all recent examples of how good 2/3s are.

Liliana is among the easiest to flip in the cycle. If used passively, it means all spot removals have to be directed at her before any of your other creatures.  Furthermore it creates very awkward combat situations as trades in combat are greatly beneficial to you. Play enough must kill targets and one of them will survive. LHE limits your opponent’s latitude.

Flipping her actively is also trivial in some decks. From self-sacrificing cards like Bone Shredder or Sakura-Tribe Elder, to basically the whole stacks archetype she will flip very consistently. In aggro decks too she has several ways to trigger usually as well, like Skullclamp, Greater Gargadon, Grafted Wargear.

When she flips, she immediately nets you a 2/2. Often you will also recur the creature you have just sacrificed, meaning you got a 2/2 + a planeswalker + the effect you just got for sacrificing the creature – immense value (but lost the 2/3 lifelink body). The mutual discard is as destructive as it is with Liliana of the Veil. It has less combo potential than the pure planeswalker, as you need to get through too many hurdles to rely on her a discard outlet. That said she gets stronger with the new madness cards from Scars of Innistrad and especially Asylum Visitor as they are likely to be played in the same decks anyway.

She is weaker than Ophiomancer and Flesh Carver. She is better than Vampire Nighthawk, but likely worse in aggro decks than Mardu Strike Leader, Drana, Liberator of Malakir and Master of the Feast. The fact that she functions so well in two different archetypes secures her a spot in large cube for quite a while.

liliana

Languish

Languish is straightforward – it is a mass removal, equal to Damnation in most cases. Creatures in cube are generally not big. Even if they are, that is rarely so around turn four. Overall Languish’s limited shrinking has been more of an asset than a liability, used to clear the way for Grave Titan or a control finisher more often than it is blank against a midrange fattie. It is still good against midrange as you can count on it killing everything costing four or less, including mana elves. Very minor points in its favor is the ability to kill regenerators and indestructible creatures. Probably a staple for cubes of any size – the card you expect to be available as it is so important for many archetypes.

 

Exquisite Firecraft

This is of the most solid cards out there. It will never surprise you, it is not clever. It just does what it says and does it well. Red has problems with four toughness creatures and four loyalty planeswalkers and this solves them nicely and cheaply. I think it is an important burn spell in red’s curve and arsenal. It is not among the top half of good burn spells in a 720 cube yet is not close to the chopping block either. The spell mastery bonus has been relevant only once so far, against Glen Elendra Archmage.

 

Goblin Glory Chaser

A decent card for sure. A 2/2 menace can do a lot more damage compared to most one drops. On the other hand it is of the worst cards in the cube if it cannot connect. In direct competition of Stromkirk Noble, with no clear winner. Stromkirk has a higher ceiling and surprisingly relevant evasion too, while menace will be better on average with a smaller body to offset that. A card that can be in or out of cube lists depending on preference to other red one drops.

 

nissas_pilgrimage

 

Conclave Naturalists

An Indrik Stomphowler with a may ability is largely below power level nowadays. It is still seen in the occasional cube list here and there. Usually you cannot afford to wait destroying artifacts and enchantments until turn five and most dangerous artifacts are cheap, making this value card rather than an effective answer. Whether or not this is better value than the worst green five drops is a bit cube dependent but possible.

 

Nissa’s Pilgrimage

It is another copy of Cultivate for heavy green decks, no more and no less. If you have a large cube and push ramp hard in green, no aggro, and also already play Kodama’s Reach and Cultivate, it does the job. Fetching only basic forests means that, in addition to losing the fixing aspect, you can only use it with at least 6 or more basic forests in your deck, which is rather narrow. The spell mastery aspect almost never comes up, as ramp decks are not heavy on instants and sorceries and in any way is not very significant. The card even lost some value as it is unable to get Wastes. I play the card, but I do not think it is great and I hope to replace it eventually.